An Australian legend takes his final bow
On With the Show’s
Flashback to Variety Today 1992
and its Gold Coast Media award-winning tribute to Peter Allen
THERE is no denying Peter Allen was the ultimate showman. His untimely death on June 18, 1992 from cancer at the early age of 48 shocked the world and left his Australian entertainment industry peers stunned. As a tribute to this great entertainer, Variety Today’s Managing Editor SHIRLEY BROUN spoke to a few of the people who shared some special moments with Peter during his life.
Col Joye pays tribute to an old friend
COL JOYE is one of Australia’s all-time greats of the magic `Bandstand’ years and as such was one of Peter Allen’s earliest showbiz buddies.
While the nature of the industry rarely caters for regular get-togethers between entertainers, Col and Peter somehow managed to `bump’ into each other at the most unusual spots. “I was having dinner in a restaurant in Aspen, Colorado, one night when in walked Peter and announced ‘I would know that voice anywhere’,” said Col.
Neither realised the other would be in coo-ee of the venue, but nevertheless, they were pleased to see each other. “We didn’t see each other as often as we should have because of our touring commitments but when we did – it was as if we had never been apart. There is a special thread between showbiz people which keeps us together no matter how long between visits,” he said.
As part of the Bandstand family, Col toured with Peter (Allen Brothers) almost three decades ago. “He was always happy and a lot of fun on the road. Plus, he had the knack of inspiring others to perform at their best every time.
“Sound systems like todays, didn’t exist in those days. The conditions under which artists had to perform were often much to be desired. However, Peter always made light of any difficulties and gave more than 100 per cent every time,” said Col.
At the time Col admits no-one would have expected Peter to write the hit songs of latter years. “He turned out to be a great songwriter and he gained international success against some strong opposition in the competitive American market.”
Col last saw Peter a few months prior to his death. “He didn’t look well at all, but I still can’t believe he is not with us anymore. I feel as if he will walk through my door again at any moment or I’ll bump into him at a restaurant overseas …”
Peter was a `natural’,
says Maestro Tommy
MAESTRO extraordinaire Tommy Tycho worked alongside Peter Allen on many occasions and can still recall their first meeting.
“I’m going back to about 1957 when I was musical director of ATN Channel 7 in Sydney. We had devised a show called Teen Time, the ultimate aim of which was to give young and rising talent an opportunity to be seen. It was largely a forerunner to Channel Nine’s Bandstand with young people in the audience and dancers on the floor,” recalled Tommy.
“At that time, Peter (then about 13) was a member of the Allen Brothers with partner Chris Bell. I was very impressed with Peter right from the start. He had talent and an engaging smile he kept until the end of his life. It was an honest smile, nothing forced – it was genuine. Plus, he played the piano and really showed talent that blossomed later on and made him a world wide success.”
Peter’s songwriting talents were something Tommy and the world would not discover for a long time to come. “We didn’t know at that time what great potential lay ahead for him as a songwriter. He was singing rock’n’roll songs then.”
In the years that followed, Peter travelled overseas to further his career and was fortunate to have caught the ear of Judy Garland who was so impressed she hired him as her support act. The Allen Brothers (who weren’t related) split, and Peter moved to America where he hit the headlines after marrying Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli. “I didn’t hear of Peter again until the first big hit song he wrote for Olivia Newton John called `I Honestly Love You’, which launched his international songwriting career,” said Tommy.
Then a strange thing happened. “Peter came to Australia to do a tour 13 or 14 years ago and we met up again. He asked me to orchestrate his one-man show which was to be presented at the Radio City Music Hall in New York.”
The Music Hall has been responsible for launching many huge stars, including the likes of Frank Sinatra, and holds an estimated 5000 people.
Tommy was happy to take up the challenge and consequently Peter took his orchestrations and his own one-man show to New York. “Peter had a season pencilled in for a couple of weeks but he was such a success that it ran for two months. It was video-taped for television exposure and screened around the world,” said Tommy. “To my surprise and delight, as I watched the performance and heard my orchestrations, my name came up on the credits – a real thrill indeed.”
Ever since, each time Peter returned to Australia he would call on Tommy to write more orchestrations. This included a number of his most memorable performances including the Royal Command Performances including the Royal Command Performance in Australia in 1980 at which he stole the show with his first public performance of `I Still Call Australia Home’. Also the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1984. “As a musician I think his greatest talent was as a composer.”
Popular hit songs just seemed to flow, they were natural. He was a singer, performer himself and that is why they never sounded contrived – and they were tailor made for singers,” said Tommy.
The last two occasions at which these two great musicians worked together was the Bicentennial Australia Day Concert before Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and more recently at the Newcastle Earthquake Concert, both held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. “We lost a big talent in all aspects of the entertainment world when Peter died. I’m sure he had a lot more songs to present to the world and his colleagues. His output was so enormous.
“Just like Gershwin and Col Porter, who both died young, Peter’s songs will continue to be played and for that reason he will never die. And it should also be remembered that Peter never denied his origins – his song `I Still Call Australia Home’ explains everything. He was loved by millions and affected their lives with his music. He lives on in all of us.”
Bert’s tears move a nation
THE tears that swelled in Channel 10 Morning Show host Bert Newton’s eyes on the day the world learned that Peter Allen had lost his fight with cancer, plus his touching tribute that followed, truly expressed the feelings of a nation.
Bert, who had first met up with the Allen Brothers on a show he hosted for teenagers in Melbourne during the late 1950s and early 60s, was speaking from his heart. “I found out the news of Peter’s death just two minutes before I went to air on the Morning Show. I was devastated,” said Bert. Having worked with the versatile performer on many occasions, Bert described Peter as a `compere’s dream’.
“When you introduced Peter, you knew the show was in good hands. He was such a vibrant person, always good fun around the studios, a real nice bloke.”
Like many of his peers, Bert remembers fondly sharing the spotlight with Peter on the 1980 Royal Command Performance – the first here in 30 years. “It’s an experience I will never forget. We were with stars such as Olivia Newton John, Helen Reddy, Roger Woodward, the Sydney Dance Company, Paul Hogan and Tommy Tycho, and Peter did his first public performance of `I Still Call Australia Home’ (written especially for the occasion) as the finale. We did a reprieve of the song and it was just electric, he walked away with the audience.”
Bert believes Peter didn’t receive the recognition he deserved for his songwriting. “He wrote such great songs – I Go To Rio, Tenterfield Sadler, Quiet Please There’s a Lady on Stage and the Academy Award winning Arthur’s Theme. Just brilliant.”
Peter’s individuality, wonderful sense of humour and talent have immortalised him. “We will look back on this era and realise he achieved so much – records, Broadway, movies, Oscar winner, songwriter and all round nice bloke. He took on the world stage and conquered it,” said Bert.
“Peter was always a hard act to follow and it’s the presence about him – his aura – that we will miss most. There was also something about him that questioned mortality. The true judgement of a great artist is one who can have you dancing on your feet one minute and in tears the next. I believe Peter would like us to celebrate his life, rather than mourn his passing.”
Real trooper to the end
IT was the second last night of Peter Allen’s Sydney season at the Hilton Hotel when he first experienced difficulty in singing. “It was noticeable something was wrong,” said his musical co-ordinator Ken Laing, “but we thought it was just strain – not unusual for singers.”
Ken was working with Peter at his last `gig’. “When Peter started having trouble with his voice, we sent him to a throat specialist who recommended that he go to St Vincent’s Hospital. He was examined and told it looked like a cancer of the throat. Peter still performed on the Saturday night at the Hilton and made it through like a real trooper. He was due to work at Twin Towns Services Club the following Thursday to Saturday. Unfortunately, by the Monday it was evident he would have to cancel his Twin Towns and Melbourne Hilton seasons.”
Ken, who worked with Peter for 12 years, described him as the `consummate entertainer who gave two bottles of blood in every performance’. “He was a superb songwriter, very good piano player and a good singer.”
He said people within the industry were horrified at his death. “I can’t remember people being so upset since we lost Ricky May. They were probably two of the most tragic deaths ever to occur in Australian showbusiness, and both were still performing right up until their death”,” said Ken.
Ken would like to see a special tribute paid to Peter Allen. “The best tribute Australia could give to Peter is to do a concert to raise money for AIDS in Peter’s name, in which the funds raised go towards that cause.
Plans for such a tribute are already underway in New York, Los Angeles and Sydney. “Peter himself was very generous. He gave a lot of his time and energy to fundraising concerts both here and in America. He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his contribution to music and the entertainment industry in 1991. He was truly one of the world’s greatest. It will be difficult to still call Australia home without him.”
A fan pays tribute to Peter Allen
A TRIBUTE to entertainer extraordinaire Peter Allen would not be complete without a word from one of his legion of fans – the millions worldwide who clambered to see him in concert, purchase his recordings or simply follow his many successes.
These were the people who, although so many were not afforded the opportunity to meet this great Australia, knew him well through his songs and the spirit of entertainment which made him one of the all time great international stars!
The magic of life through the creative mind and musical abilities of Peter Allen touched millions – and will continue to do so for decades to come. It is through this medium that Peter etched his mark on my life. While I was fortunate enough to meet Peter several times throughout his life-time, it was in his songs and music that his inner thoughts and aspirations reached me.
There was the outrageous, fun loving side to his nature that many still highlight as one of his most endearing charms. Songs such as I Go To Rio reflected his love for flamboyancy. Then who could forget the song he wrote which was a big hit for Olivia Newton John `I Honestly Love You’ – soft, sensuous and moving, and `Quiet Please, There’s a Lady On Stage’. There was also the unforgettable `Tenterfield Saddler’, a musical tribute to his own childhood, growing up in country NSW.
Peter wrote many great hit songs, not only for himself but for many International stars, but who could ever have imagined that the boy from Tenterfield could pen one of this country’s most patriotic and moving songs ever written, `I Still Call Australia Home’, which not only became his signature tune but Australia’s undisputed `favourite anthem’.
Peter was more than a performer. He gave his `all’ and then a bit, for the sake of entertainment. He is a true legend, and his name and music will live on for generations to come. His spirit, love and exquisite talent to make the world laugh, cry and stand proud, will live on forever as a fitting legacy for all to enjoy. We’ll miss you Peter …
- Shirley BrounTweet